Help me ask a woman out. Easy, right?
May 13, 2015 6:13 AM   Subscribe

I need help asking a woman out for the first time since the "opening" of my marriage.

I'm a man, mid-30s, married to a woman for 10+ years, no kids. I've never cheated on her, nor she on me. She recently suggested that we should be free to form meaningful relationships with other people, while staying committed to each other. I was surprised to find, as we talked about it, that I was on board. Since I want to keep the question short and focused, I'll skip a lot of details here, but I do want to impress on anyone reading that I truly feel we've made a healthy decision and that we expect to become closer as a result -- more trusting and respectful of each other and ourselves. I never would've seen it coming, but here we are.

Anyway, once my wife and I came to our agreement, I found myself thinking about a particular person. I don't know her very well. We were in a class together way back when, and on one occasion, she said something unexpectedly kind to me that could have been intended as an expression of interest. I wasn't able to find out, because I had just started dating my (eventual) wife. So we haven't kept in touch, other than one pleasant conversation several years ago (a random chance meeting), and I'd seen her posting on mutual friends' stuff on facebook. She lives in a different city. Until now she'd stayed at the back of my mind.

I friended her on facebook. She seems REALLY brilliant and stylish and funny and socially conscious and great. I have a tiny crush on her, in case it's not obvious. But of course I'm querying these feelings and finding that I could be slightly giddy and disoriented because my situation is so new to me. I would really like to talk with her in person and find out if the crush is real, or what.

But, I don't know how to ask. I don't want to reveal too much too soon. I don't know her well enough to know if she'll understand what's going on with me and my wife, which is a private, complex thing. It will make more sense if it's explained in full, and in person, if we seem to be clicking. But if I reveal too little, she might just think I'm a creep who's trying to cheat on his wife.

I'd be honored just to be better friends with her, and I would like to start there anyway. Truthfully I don't even know if she's available for anything more than that. But I don't want to set her expectations at friend level, only to feel something click and have to launch into a really complicated conversation from there.

We have some common interests, and I could reasonably (and in good faith) contact her regarding those, but again I don't want this to seem like a ruse or an excuse if I want to switch directions.

My current plan is to send her a short email, something like: "You seem like a completely brilliant person! I'd love to have coffee and catch up with you when you're in town, or when I'm in your town. What do you think?"

Another option would be a much longer, more explanatory email (which probably would exert too much pressure, even if I concluded by saying I'd like to meet/catch up on a friendly basis). Or, I could do nothing at all and let the excitement of the crush tire itself out. But I don't want to do that -- I want to be alive and see what's possible.

What should I do? What should I say? I'm hoping not to mess this up. I need ideas & maybe some more nuanced wording. Maybe you know something else I need. Thanks for reading, thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The concept of open relationships and marriages is pretty extraordinary. So you are going to have to be upfront about your marital status and use concrete language: my wife and I are in an open marriage.

Not to do so is to be dishonest. It's possible your crush also shares similar values, but it's unlikely.

The other problem is that while the direct approach is great, it's going to come across as pretty weird or even creepy.

Why not join a community, online or otherwise, where people are familiar with the concept already?
posted by Nevin at 6:41 AM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

Go with the casual e-mail. Getting into more is too much, especially since you haven’t seen this person in years and have zero reason to believe they are likely to be interested. (Most women are not into dating people in open relationships. Even if they’re cool with open relationships/ polyamory in theory, getting together with people who are brand new to it is emotionally risky because the odds that they or their parents will cause drama is particularly high. Ask how I know!)

If you ever meet, you can reassess your chances.

If you’re looking more generally for new partners, online dating is the easiest way to find people who might be interested in dating someone in an open marriage.

For now, enjoy the crush even if nothing comes to it; one of the cool things about open relationships is letting our minds go wherever we'd like, guilt-free.
posted by metasarah at 6:42 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

You are on the right track and your gut instinct to TAKE IT SLOOOW is perfect.
You're both overthinking this, and you're drifting over into creepy daydream land, which will take some mindfulness and some diligence on your part to keep under control.

1) Stick with Facebook for now. Comment, question, interact with her THERE. It's the perfect benign (to use Buoys In The Hood's word) way to get to know someone.

2) Go back to #1 until you've gotten to know each other better. Venture into email or private messaging only to share something interesting you might have in common or you know that she's expressed an interested in. The old 'I saw this article and thought of you..". Nothing intimate, too personal or sexual. You are working on a FRIENDSHIP here, not grooming her for future sexual escapades.

3) If you can't do 1 and 2, then leave her alone, go on with your life and find someone else.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 6:43 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you're getting awfully invested in the idea of dating this one woman. Chances are very high that she would not be interested in dating you. She expressed interest in you more than ten years ago, and more importantly it was when you were SINGLE (or at least much more single than you are now). I don't have statistics to back me up, but I suspect that a majority of single people are not interested in dating people who are married.
posted by mskyle at 6:53 AM on May 13, 2015 [22 favorites]

One thing they always say about opening up a relationship is that you shouldn't do it because one partner has someone specific in mind. In reality it probably does happen that way, but there is a reason people counsel against it and that has to do with the health of your primary relationship. So, something to consider this early in the arrangement: is your spouse going to think you came to this agreement and then immediately got to work trying to revive and take a pre-existing relationship to another level? Or is that other person going to think that? This is not something I can guess about based on what you have written. And clearly, we are not responsible for what other people think. But I would be very very careful to clarify expectations and parameters with your partner. Maybe ask what they would think if you got involved with someone from your past.
posted by BibiRose at 6:54 AM on May 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

I was going to say something like BibiRose. Having someone already in mind, or at least having someone who sprung to mind pretty quickly when the possibility arose, can feel way different to your partner than if you met a new person tomorrow. I know that when I tried an open relationship it was the unhealthy kind cautioned above where we both had our own agendas and it all spiraled out of control pretty quickly. I'm not saying that is the case with you at all - it sounds like you and your partner have a much healthier outlook than we had - but I know how it felt to be willing to try this new thing and find out that my partner already had a list ready. It was suddenly all too real and made me start to question our history together and ugh.

All of that is to say, maybe focus less on this one woman and focus more on meeting new people.
posted by fanta_orange at 7:29 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think the casual email is fine. If you guys click and meet up in person, you can be very casual and upfront about being in an open marriage without it needing to be a come on (in fact, if you're open about it before anything romantic happens between you two, it will probably be more believable). You could even introduce her to your wife, if that's in your agreement. Be totally above board and try to make friends with someone you think is cool, and if things go in the romantic direction, great. If not, you have a new friend, and she might become a friend to your marriage as well.

This is all dependent on you really being a guy who can think a woman is cool and beautiful but still just be friends with her, of course.
posted by easter queen at 7:40 AM on May 13, 2015

Please be very open and upfront about your intentions. An open marriage like yours means that anyone you date will always be second string, a used person, not a priority. It isn't right to pull someone into something like that without letting them know their role. Some people will actually seek out these roles because there isn't any real rejection because they were never going to be chosen anyway. Other people are looking for someone to love them completely and any time spend with you would be a damaging waste. Be kind by being honest.
posted by myselfasme at 7:57 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I were this woman, I am having a hard time figuring out a series of messages/events that doesn't end in OMG BLOCK NEVER SEE AGAIN.

I'm sorry, but if a woman wrote an Ask saying that a random guy from a different town, someone she didn't really know from years back had suddenly got in touch via Facebook, no matter where the open marriage disclosure happens (before or after meeting), it's just going to seem like she was targeted and .... I would be very uncomfortable if this happened to me or my friends. If my single friends met you, they would have a backup rescue friend a block away on text alert.

You need to find someone local, someone you know or can meet in more ordinary circumstance. Not a mark from another town and another time.
posted by littlewater at 7:57 AM on May 13, 2015 [19 favorites]

2nd mskyle, buoys in the hood, and Nevin (and others, on preview). Most single women I know (also 30s; non-poly), if they're looking, are getting serious about planning the next stages of their lives and want to be someone's only. They might even be offended by such a proposal (no matter how well it's explained). Your crush may be open to the situation, it's possible, but odds are long on that.

There's also the fact that you don't live in the same city.

I guess you could send a short "what's up" message, but probably better to focus on local women whom you know in advance are up for being a third. (I don't know whether that would mean online dating or particular irl communities.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:00 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been in non-monogamous relationships for close to 20 years and at least half of my friends circle has some degree of openness in their relationships. I would strongly suggest that a long distance person that you're crushing on but may not have reciprocal feelings and who also presumably has no experience with non-monogamy is not the wisest choice for a first experiment in open relationships. One of the biggest problems in open relationships is managing NRE (New Relationship Energy) and not letting the swoon over the new interest cause you to neglect the existing ones. People that haven't dealt with it before tend to be especially bad at managing it. Long distance relationships, IMO, tend to actually exacerbate some of the problems, in part because so much of the communication is electronic that it's easy to slip into doing it all the time and in part because seeing the new person will tend to suck up an entire weekend at a time, which can lead the other partners to feeling neglected. I'd suggest that you'd be better off finding the local poly community and meeting someone geographically closer to you.

All poly issues aside, I'd still council just about anyone against building up a crush on someone and pursuing them long distance. It just tends to not end up well. You're building up an idealized version of them based on social media and some cherry picked memories from years ago (I'm not criticism you for by saying this, it's just what we tend to do), and the real them is someone else. And an idealized version of what your relationship is and should be.

I'd be honored just to be better friends with her, and I would like to start there anyway.

Become better friends with her at this time will just fan the crush. I would advise letting it fade, play with non-monogamy locally, and when you're not feeling the irrational affection towards her trying to become better friends then.
posted by Candleman at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2015 [12 favorites]

I don't know her well enough to know if she'll understand what's going on with me and my wife, which is a private, complex thing. It will make more sense if it's explained in full, and in person, if we seem to be clicking. But if I reveal too little, she might just think I'm a creep who's trying to cheat on his wife.

There are some signifiers built into social media that can help with this. It's one of the reasons a lot of people use online dating so they can include "Married but open to play partners" or whatever. If you're doing anything that is predicated on getting to know someone better for possible eventual dating, you need to let them know up front as soon as possible. Your situation with your wife may be private but your "relationship status" (for lack of a better term) should not be. Anyone should know you are married before you ask them out. Period. Being in an open relationship and doing it well means a lot of communication with everyone. You're going to have to get comfortable with explaining this to people you might potentially date. This is your life now.

I'm a person who has, in the past, been involved with poly people and it's usually AOK with me (even as the second stringer) as long things are all clear up front. I second what everyone else is saying here, this may not be the first place you want to go looking just because of the complications of LDRs. Don't confuse the NRE (as candleman explains) with "being alive" You were alive before and you are alive now and you will be alive in the future. If you want to start a conversation with this person online, change your relationship status to "it's complicated" and start that conversation. Asking someone if they want to get coffee if you're in the same city basically is asking someone on a (future) date and I'd hold off on that until you can be clear about your status and maybe you've had some practice explaining it to people (even a local friend or someone, they'll have questions, you can see how you feel about answering them) and have gotten your head around it a bit more.
posted by jessamyn at 8:46 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
I'm more disoriented than I thought. It seems like I was using this "crush" business to hide this from myself. I'm going in for counseling this afternoon. Thank you everyone who answered, from the top of my upsidedown heart.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:02 AM on May 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

As a followup to the followup, if you're not aware of it, there is the Kink Aware Professionals, which you can use to find counselors that are open to alternative relationships. If you and your wife do continue down the path to non-monogamy, I recommend to pretty much anyone new to the experience that they preemptively start couples counseling to help head problems off before they become big. One of the really, really, really common things I see again and again is people that are fine with themselves having another partner but find that they can't handle their partner seeing someone else. It's not necessarily insurmountable, but having a neutral third party facilitating communication can help a lot.

One important question to ask your wife and possibly work through the answer to with a counselor is whether your wife already had someone in mind when she brought up the concept.

P.S. Don't beat yourself up about the crush, that's perfectly natural, just probably don't pursue it.
posted by Candleman at 10:06 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

This stuff is confusing and takes time to work out both in your own mind and with your partner. Confusion is normal. So yay you for going off to get counselling. (And if you work it all out with your wife and proceed to open your marriage, OK Cupid has been an effective way for some openly poly people I know to meet other openly poly people.)
posted by Bella Donna at 5:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've been non-monogamous for just shy of a decade now. Forget this woman. There is no way to casually reintroduce yourself and later on drop "oops just btw I'm in an open marriage and would you like to maybe fuck?" without totally coming across as a creep/instablock. I know you have basically pure/confused/daydreaming intentions, but the number of people who will take well to this is nearly zero.

Put yourself on a dating site (okc is pretty poly friendly) and be up front about your status, go fool around with someone else who's indicated the same thing about themselves and knows what they're doing.
posted by ead at 2:53 AM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

My current plan is to send her a short email, something like: "You seem like a completely brilliant person! I'd love to have coffee and catch up with you when you're in town, or when I'm in your town. What do you think?"

Hey OP, per your update, I'm glad you're in counseling because I get the sense you are still grappling with what your identity is going to be and how you'll present vis-a-vis the whole open marriage deal. I just want to say that I respectfully disagree with most of this thread in that I didn't find your original email plan creepy or inappropriate or off-putting at all. A lot of people in this thread are basically saying most hetero women would be "offended" if you reached out to them with some romantic interest and you're in an open marriage. Sample size one here, but in her shoes, I would not be offended-- fuck, I'd be flattered that someone who knows me from back in the day still finds me attractive/ "brilliant and stylish and funny and socially conscious and great." It would be such a nice feather in my cap. I wouldn't date you because I am happily married and I will always need to be #1 and only in any man of mine's life, but I'd totally be friends and wingwoman with you (which, granted, is not what you are after from this woman, so...) Maybe I'm an outlier, I dunno. That being said, I'll defer to people who are poly and know more about best poly practices here, but I have to wonder what the hell is the point of being intentionally non-monogamous if you can't even try to be with the person you're currently finding most attractive? I don't see how you have anything to lose by reaching out, except being rejected by someone who doesn't live anywhere near you.
posted by hush at 8:27 AM on May 21, 2015

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